Lolling on a hazy summer day, drool running down
my chin my beer tipping precariously as eyes closed off
consciousness slipping sneaking me into a soft slumber nap.
A busy curious house fly landed on my nose to walk around
its new found planet for exploration or to search for food
discovering nothing moving on for a more fruitful endeavor.
Startled awake by my visitor and a sip of warming beer, music
floated across space and time from a far off place not my own
containing children’s shouts and laughter and splashing water.
A soft breeze chilled my beads of sweat stirring the humidity
laden air containing smells of charcoal grills, burgers and hot
dogs being readied for families as they gather on shaded patios.
Such summer days become hazy
remembered now in blizzard
hard winter cold empty white
dawn my dreams interrupted
only to crawl out from under
deep down not enough to warm
this heart on this short day.
I just read another blog about meditating and how such a practice can change one’s lives. I have been meditating now, off and on, for over 40 years and most recently have completed over 800 straight days, maybe only 10 minutes sometimes like when I am traveling, but I at least sat in quiet for that time, however short. This is not to brag, but simply just is.
Can I attest to meditation changing my life with absolute conviction? No, I can’t. However, I must say that I do see things differently, maybe this is simply due to me being an old guy. One comment I remember making to a friend back in the 1970s after I took the course in, the then popular, Transendental Meditation. I remember saying that when I’m driving through the city, which I did a lot for my job then, I felt that I hit more green lights than red.
I think that still describes my life today. I notice things differently, especially I have a deeper love for nature as well as humans and the human condition. Some of that probably comes from my study of Buddhism. But, rather than flipping off a driver that cuts me off, I rather send him or her some positive energy that they might experience more awareness and love for others.
I mention awareness, yes, I am more aware of my surroundings and of others. I like to notice my surroundings and the people around me. One saying I learned some years ago, “Notice what you notice”. I like to make people smile. I like to say hello to strangers and offer a smile. I like to engage check out people at the grocery store. I have found that most checkout people love it when you simply ask about their day. I feel if I might make one other person happy, they might do the same for someone else.
I have studied other meditation practices since my early days, mainly Buddhist practice which I do to this day both at home and at the Sangha on Sundays for a 45 minute sit. Some folks ask me how I can sit that long without fidgiting or “doing” something. I am doing something. I am being alone with myself and in that emptiness of wonderful nothingness. Time actually goes by quickly. I find now, especially after my dedicated practice, missing a day would be like a day without sunshine, without food or water, a day without any meaning.
This might be enough for now. I usually don’t write about me personally so directly but through my stories and poetry, but this was fun. More later? Carry on out there . . . and wash your hands. Peace and blessings.
With the grace of a gazelle
she floated amongst the flowers
of all rainbow hues
stopping, smelling, studying,
admiring as an aesthete
might search for truth
in a tome that could explain
After college, I located to Cedar Rapids, about 125 miles away. I came back to the farm frequently, especially after Dad died, then more in the last six months with Mom’s failing health. I only ever went to the farm, never socializing in town. Most folks never knew I was there, especially Molly Ann who I purposely avoided. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in twenty-five years.
Molly Ann was right, I needed to get back to the house. There were still guests and I needed to thank them all for coming. All the women from my mother’s church had brought food, so much food it could have fed a small army.
As we started up the hill, she asked, “How are you holding up?”
I stammered, “Uh, okay, I guess.”
“I’m very sorry about your mother, Travis. I truly am. I lost both my parents some years ago I can understand what you must be going through. You’re lucky to have had your mother this long.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am. I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet.”
“It takes time.”
“Yeah, I suppose it does. I really should get back up there and say good-byes,” starting to walk faster.
She kept right with me, “I’d like to stay after and talk a while if that’d be okay?”
Again I stammered, “Uh, yeah, talk? Sure, of course.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence, me wondering what we’d have to talk about. Where was her husband?
After shaking everybody’s hands and again accepting their sympathy, the house was cleared of everybody, except for Molly Ann. We were alone now and I was fidgeting, uncomfortable, being with her.
“It’s good to see you, Travis. You look great.”
“Thanks. You’re looking good yourself,” I answered all too sharply. “How’s Carl?”
“I don’t know how he is. Carl left me two years after we’re married. I haven’t seen or heard from him since our divorce.”
It took me a moment to process what she said and I muttered half-heartedly, “Ah, I’m sorry, Molly. Really. I’ve been through it myself and can sympathize. Sucks.”
She waited for more from me, then continued nervously, like needing to fill the emptiness, the distance between us, with sound, “Yeah, he couldn’t handle the responsibilities of fatherhood and moved on leaving me alone with a baby. My parents helped me and I was able to go to junior college and become a medical assistant. So, I was a single mom and now my daughter, Emily, is a senior Iowa State trying to get into veterinarian school.”
She paused and, me failing to respond, she continued her voice beginning to quiver, “I’ve thought about you a lot, Travis. I’m sorry for treating you like I did, you know, like I did back then. I’ve wanted to see you for a long time, but you fell off the radar. I knew you came here a lot to visit, but you were never around. I’m sorry this circumstance was what finally gave me the chance to see you. ”
I grunted a response, not feeling much like hashing out old stuff. I looked by her, not wanting to meet her eyes.
She continued, “It was wrong of me, I know, just all of a sudden, I don’t know, just to ignore you like I did. It was stupid but I wanted to explore, to have girlfriends and check out other guys. We were always so close, I needed space. I should’ve talked to you then, I shouldn’t have just cut you off like I did, but I was young and didn’t know how to talk to you about the things I felt. I’m sorry. I know I must have hurt you.”
I grunted again, not having any response. The anger and confusion I felt back then came rushing back. She didn’t say anything, just stood there.
Then, with dripping sarcasm in my voice, I said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. Seeing you after all these years, the way things happened back then. You really hurt me. Just all of a sudden you ignored me, like I was a pariah or something. I thought we were friends. But no, you went off made other friends. Never talked to me. You were popular. I was just another kid. Maybe it was my fault that I never really had any really close friends in high school. I don’t know, but I hated it.”
After several long moments, I looked over and saw her standing limply with her hands at her sides, her palms turned towards me as if pleading. She had tears running down her cheeks.
Seeing her just then, took me back in time to when we were maybe twelve, I remembered her pleading with me over some probably inconsequential thing. I remembered the fondness we had for each other. The anger, hurt, and regret faded away like the morning mist in fresh sunlight and tears wanted to also swell my eyes. I did something crazy, something I had wanted to do back when we were kids, I went to her took her in my arms, raised her chin gently and kissed her with all the pent up passion and love for her I didn’t know I had been carrying with me for twenty-five years. I felt her body stiffen for a moment and then relax, her arms went around my neck and she responded to my kiss with the same passion.
We took a breath, she whispered, “I’ve always loved you, Travis. I had to grow up before I realized it. By then you were gone. I’ve longed for this moment, not thinking it would ever happen, to hold you close, to kiss you, to feel your warmth.”
I was savoring her, wanting her, desiring her. I heard the night sounds coming through the screen door, crickets seemed louder, more frogs had joined the chorus, somewhere close by an owl hooted.
I whispered back, “I don’t want to ever lose you again. I never want to let you go. Don’t go away from me again. Please.”
She turned her head back to me and leaned back from my arms, still holding her tight around her waist, and looked me in the eye, tears were running freely down her cheeks, from fear, sadness, or happiness, I didn’t know.
Then she began to talk rapidly, immediate, in a panic, “Are you sure? We are starting something? You won’t easily get rid of me. This has to be for the long haul. But we both have baggage. It’s been a long time. We both have different lives now. It could get very complicated. I don’t want to hurt you or get hurt.”
My mind was racing, I placed my finger gently on her lips, “Okay, okay, slow down already. It might well be complicated, could be very complicated but here’s what I think, I don’t think we’re starting something new. I think we are continuing something we started long ago and never totally realized ’til now. Now we have to catch up.
“I’ve got a lot to do here sorting out the farm and estate so I’m going to have to be here a lot. We can see how the next few weeks or months go? Get to know each other again. Then, hopefully we can keep on going from there? My options are open right now. I have some ideas for what I want to do with the farm and it will all take time. I’m planning on being here for at least the next few weeks for sure and maybe full time when I get the farm up and running the way I want.”
We were quiet for a while, each absorbing what was happening, still not letting go. She was the first to break her hold, wiping tears on her sleeve, looking and smiling at me, and said, “Can we take a walk down by the old tree where the swing was, where I found you earlier. Remember the fun we had with that swing? It’s a beautiful night with a full moon. I wish that swing was still there.”
I replied, “Sure, I’d like that. I wish it was still there too. Then we could pretend we were swinging on a star like we used to.”
“We can still pretend we are anyway. I think I already am.” She took my hand and pulled me in for another kiss.
“Me too.” I returned her kiss, squeezed her hand and we went out into the night to swing on our star.
“Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule . . .”
Those old forgotten lyrics came sneaking back into my head as I sat on the hill down below the old farmhouse where I grew up so may years ago. ‘Swinging on a Star’ by Bing Crosby was my mother’s favorite song. I remember how she would hum the melody or sometimes sing the lyrics when she thought no one was listening while she cooked, did laundry, gardened and did all the other chores around the house and farm to keep my father and the hired man fed and in clean clothes. But that was a long time ago.
Dusk was settling in after a normal hot sultry July day in northeast Iowa. No breeze to ruffle even the lightest of leaves, frogs were singing down in the valley by the spring fed farm pond. Mosquitos hadn’t yet come out or else hadn’t found me yet. A humid mist rose from the valley floor. It was an evening that brought back those childhood memories from what some might call the ‘good times’ but only remembering the good times means we had put the bad times away.
Now were sad times. I had just buried my mother that morning. Dad preceded her by six years. She was a tough one, eighty-nine years old, only just going down hill in the last few months. She had a good life. As an only child born late in her life, I now had to consider an eight hundred acre farm I had just inherited.
I was leaning against the old oak tree where my long ago rotted away swing rope once hung from a high branch. My dad made the swing for me, a single thirty foot piece of hay rope with a wooden two by four for a seat. I loved to come up here and swing. There was a flat spot on the hill by where the tree stood. I was able to walk up to where the hill again began to ascend towards our house, straddle the rope and, with my legs straight out so I wouldn’t hit the ground, I was able to sail out into space like I was flying. With only the one rope in the center, I was able to go backwards and sideways and spin in space. It made me feel alive and free, like I could do anything: have adventures like Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, Captain Ahab or Ishmael, or the western heroes of Zane Grey’s many books.
However, my life turned out to be less than adventurous, now an account executive with an advertising agency where I coddled and sold advertising to untrusting business men and women who never seemed to be satisfied with the outcome of any ad campaigns the agency ran for them, no matter how successful they were. I was good at what I did and made decent money, had a nice condo overlooking a park in Cedar Rapids which I bought after my divorce when I lost the house to my ex-wife. She and her new husband live there now with our two kids, both now in high school, who I get to see one awkward weekend a month. Ten years and I haven’t found anyone to be serious about. Mainly because I’m not really looking.
I brought my mind back to the present, settling back into the woodland sounds and smells. I heard a train whistle about a mile away going up along the Mississippi, the big engines working hard. I remembered how hearing those trains heard through my open bedroom windows during the summers, before we had air conditioning, ow they always made me feel lonely, like I needed to be, or be going, somewhere, maybe somewhere out west where there was the purple sage and wide open spaces of Zane Grey novels.
I used to love these summer days and nights of soft summer air, always wanting them to go on forever. No school and freedom. Free run of 800 acres, about a third in hilly woodlands with the remaining hill tops in crops. I would roam through the woods, climb the bluffs, sometimes finding arrow heads and other treasures, now all packed away in the attic of the farmhouse along with all my other old things my mother kept.
After supper some nights I would come down and play on the swing. One night I remember a particularly bright moon rise. I was on my swing going so high I thought if I let go at just the right time I might fly all the way through space and time and land on the moon like the astronauts did fifteen years ago in 1969. Maybe higher, maybe even to the stars.
A female voice jolted me back to the present, “Travis, your guests are getting ready to leave. You might want to go back up the house and say good-byes.”
I turned to the voice and saw Molly Ann Parker standing in the shadows. Molly Ann and I grew up together. Her parent’s farm was close by and we’d play together on Saturdays during the school year and roam the woods together during the summers. We were inseparable until freshman year in high school when she decided she didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. She found new friends and she began avoiding me. Lost and alone, I finally started hanging out with some guys from school. Then in junior year, my best friend Carl started dating her. After that, he wasn’t my best friend anymore. They ended up getting married right after high school because Molly Ann was pregnant.
To be continued . . .
Six months later, Emma walked proudly across the stage to receive her PhD in Historical Studies from Harvard University. Her dissertation had received high praise from her graduate committee. Her major professor was urging her to expand it into a book. Her family was in the audience and after the ceremony they all hovered around in the lobby of the auditorium congratulating her and chatting.
She noticed a well dressed handsome young man standing outside the circle of her well wishers trying to catch her eye. After things were quieting down with her family, he again caught her eye. He looked strangely familiar, but she couldn’t place him. She excused herself and went to where he was standing. Her grooup moved on outside.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“I am so sorry to intrude” he said with a formal British accent and voice she vaguely recognized from her trip six months ago.
He continued, “I was impelled to come to your ceremony and congratulate you on your great success. I am truly honored to be here, albeit, a gate crasher.
“You did not answer my question,” she said with an edge to her voice.
“Ah, yes, where are my manners, but I am reluctant to tell you. You may not readily accept what I have to tell you, but please, my name is Smythe. Alexander Smythe, but please, Alex will do just fine.”
She sucked in a breath, “So you’re Mr. Smythe’s son?”
“No, I am the son of Ronald Smythe.”
Her eyes popped wide open and she brought a hand to her mouth as she exclaimed more loudly than she intended, “NO! You’re not! NO! Surely you’re not! You’re not the gentleman I met six months ago, not THE Alexander Smythe?!” Surely you . . . NO . . . it’s not possible!”
Her thoughts flew back to the library and manuscripts about aging spells and Sylvester Arnon. It all came together. She felt unsteady and put her other hand against the wall for support. He quickly grabbed her and helped her to steady herself.
“I’m so sorry to spring this on you like this.”
She took two deep breaths, “It’s okay. This can’t be true. I’m okay now. This isn’t true.” She slowly regained her equilibrium. “I’m okay now, I think. You can let go.” He released his hold and stood back.
“Ah, I’m sorry, but, yes it is. Those documents you gave me on the aging spells, they were thankfully what I needed. I, with the help of some of my comrades of course, managed to reverse the spell. The Mr. Arnon you met at the library was responsible for casting that spell upon me, causing me to age almost overnight into an eighty-five year old man.”
He continued by saying that Arnon had been disgraced, banned from the library, and shunned by anyone who knew him. He had disappeared and he was rumored to be in India where he had entered a Buddhist monastery.
He continued his story, “Six weeks ago several other of the select library members and myself found the secret passageway you told me about. With further investigation, we discovered yet another hidden chamber you missed containing many other such ancient parchments with similar spells and alchemy. Arnon must have discovered it never telling anyone. All those documents all have now all been sealed away in a completely secure vault while they are being studied by some occult scholars. They shall never see the light of day and will be never again used for such treachery.”
She sank back into a bench taking some deep breaths and several moments to process all she had just heard. He saw her dismay and said, “My sincere apologies for causing you any unwarranted distress on this illustrious day. I wanted to come to congratulate your success and give you a gift. I am happy I was of service in your accomplishment.”
“No. No, it’s okay. It’s just that, I don’t know. My studies of the occult have always been with the idea that this stuff was no more than wishful thinking and mythology.”
“Ah, far from mythology, dear Emma. It is all quite real. I again apologize for taking from your family and friends and all this. I should leave now.”
She was confused and she wanted to talk more with this man. “No. Please. Come and join us. We are going for a celebration dinner and party. Please come. I want to talk more with you about, well, everything. It’s a lot for me to process. It was good of you to remember and to come today. How did you know? Get in?”
“Let’s just say I know people who know people. Oh, I almost forgot. Here is a present for you. Please wait until later to open it,” as he handed her a tightly sealed envelope. “Are you sure I won’t be an inconvenience?”
“Not at all. You will be very welcome.” She took him back to her group and introduced him only as the man who was instrumental to her finalizing her thesis.
Later that night, alone in her apartment, she opened his envelope. Along with a thank-you/congratulation note, he saw a cash transfer into her bank account of $1,000,000. Her breath csught in disbelief and she fell into a chair stunned, dropping the envelope and note, immobile for several minutes. Shakily, she managed to get to her computer to check her bank balance which was $1,0409,767.39. It took her a long time for her heart to quit pounding. Some time later she was calmed enough to make a cup of chamomile tea fall into a deep sleep, waking in the morning still in disbelief.
* * *
Emma had invited Alex to meet the next morning for breakfast at a small cafe close to her apartment by the Harvard campus. Instead of his formal tailored suit, he was in sneakers, jeans, and a light v-necked sweater, his once feeble body looking strong and fit. He really is handsome, giving him a once over.
Once seated and their order taken, Emma first thanked him for his thoughtfulness and then adamantly refused the money.
Alex would not hear of it, “You were paramount in giving me my life back, for actually saving my life, restoring me to my youth. That is a small token of my appreciation. My gratefulness is beyond anything I could ever offer you.”
She considered this and nodded her head in defeat. Then she had nothing but questions which rolled out non-stop.
“Whoa,” he said, “one at a time. I shall start at the beginning.” He went on to tell how his and Arnon’s great grandfathers were best of friends growing up. The practice of the magical and alchemical arts had been practiced by both families for many generations. His family had accumulated great wealth over the years from world wide business interests which Alex was now the only remaining heir to and solely in charge of managing. The families had remained close until Alex’s great grandfather, Reginald, wrote his book, “Full Moon Rituals”. Sylvester Arnon then claimed, without any merit, that it was his research on this very topic and Reginald had stolen all his work for his own purpose and had the book published. That incident caused a break in the relationships with the families and they became enemies, the feud carrying through until present day.
Sylvester Arnon took it upon himself to settle the score once and for all when he discovered the manuscripts containing the ‘aging spells’. He successfully performed the spell, sending Alex into rapid aging from a vital twenty-eight year old to someone well into his eighties or beyond. Thankfully the spell slowed incrementally as the aging process increased or he would have been dead some time ago. Emma, of course had found the manuscripts and Alex and his friends were able to reverse the process. The whole ordeal had taken a toll on him from which he was almost now fully recovered.
Their food had arrived. “That is it all in a nutshell. What you consider to be myth is something that is quite real and not to be taken lightly. Please, now let us enjoy our food.”
As they quietly ate for a few minutes, she noticed him stealing glances at her, making her smile inside.
She interrupted between bites, “I should tell you I’ll be heading back to England next month for a more extended stay. I’ve been granted a post-doctoral position at Cambridge for at least a year. So we’ll sort of be neighbors.”
“How perfectly wonderful, Emma. Congratulations. May I call upon you for a dinner sometime? We must exchange our contact information.”
Her heart skipped a beat, “Sure. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
“Meantime, I will be spending at a week here in your lovely city and I would be so happy if you would be my tour guide, but only if you are free to do so,” he said, taking a bite of sausage and egg.
“Of course I would. I’d be honored, but only a week? There’s a lot to see and enjoy here,” she said.
“Of course. I could certainly extend my visit, to see everything you might want to show me, if you so wish,” his smile brightening with anticipation.
“Sounds good,” she said with an even bigger smile.